In Celebration of Small Things: Friendly Strangers on a Train
‘It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains couldn’t care less where they’re going. For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way.’
‘A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving’
‘Travelling-it leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller’
“ Excusez moi mais je pense que…’ I started to explain to the woman who had occupied my seat at the beginning of a six hour journey by train. Her determined stare out the window and apparent deafness told me that it was not going to be easy to dislodge her. I gave up and moved down the aisle looking for an unoccupied seat, finally finding one in the corridor. I felt the need to debrief and smiled at the couple opposite, it’s usually the best way to start a conversation on a train particularly when you are in a different country. They smiled back and I explained what had happened. Apparently it’s quite a common thing to have your seat ‘borrowed’ from time to time.
Great! I started to feel like a local ! Our conversation meandered into all sorts of areas as the man who had worked in the legal domain but was now retired, explained the reason for “Stop” signs -which I had seen frequently when cycling through the vineyards. The word derived from ‘Estoppel’ a word introduced by William the Conqueror. The woman asked if their were any French people in Australia and I told them there were lots, mentioning the French Conversation groups in all the capital cities. The announcement stated that we were approaching Poitiers, their destination, and we said a warm farewell. At the same time I noticed a woman in the carriage also leaving and determined to grab her seat. The man sitting next to her helped me with my bag and we began chatting. This conversation occupied the whole of the remaining journey to Bordeaux. The passenger to my right was an interesting person who was happy to talk about numerous subjects. I have found the French to be very polite even when I make many faux pas and they love to encourage me to ‘have a go’ even if I get it wrong. My travelling companion expressed his concern about the rise of nationalism in Europe and the growth of the extreme right, the National Front in France-who have adopted Joan of Arc, my favourite saint-as their icon. How dare they! He then asked about Australia
‘Were we a Republic?
Did we have marriage equality?
What actions were we taking against Climate Change?
Were Australian railways efficient?’
‘En retard’ was my answer!
Finally we reached Bordeaux his destination and the place for my next change of train. On the next journey which took over two hours, I spent the time dreaming out the window and dozed off to be awoken by voice announcing the approach of my stop. I had reached Montauban, my destination and was grateful for all that I had learnt from the friendly strangers on the train.